December 1, 2002 — Miguel Syjuco is en route to Manila. Ten months earlier, the body of his mentor, the Filipino author Crispin Salvador, was found floating in the Hudson River — spread-eagled and barely clothed. And the manuscript of his reportedly groundbreaking to-be-published work, The Bridges Ablaze, is missing.
Moved by the death of his long-time mentor and friend, Miguel sets out on a journey to assemble bits and pieces of his mentor's life story from all of his works and friends and find out why Crispin Salvador became the man he is, and along the way, discover how their lives are connected.
Ilustrado, from the Spanish word for the educated Filipino class in the Spanish colonial era, is a novel by Miguel Syjuco which explores Philippine history through the lives and genealogies of the narrator and the Posthumous Character of Crispin Salvador.
This novel provides examples of:
- Alternate History: Though Corazon Aquino mentioned several times, her successors, Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada, weren't mentioned but instead, the president featured in the novel is Estregan.
- Author Avatar: Zigzagged in a really weird way — Miguel is probably an author avatar, but it turns out that Crispin Salvador was writing the novel all along.
- Author Tract: The book, in summary, can serve as a social commentary to Philippine politics and society.
- Author Existence Failure: One of Miguel's main motivations in the book is piecing together Crispin's life after his death and look for his unfinished and unpublished manuscript of The Bridges Ablaze.
- "Awesome McCool" Name: You have to wonder whether the author isn't invoking this in some way. We have Antonio Astignote from Manila Noir, the security guard-turned-vigilante Wigberto Lakandula, and Crispin's Grandfather, Cristobal Narciso Patricio Salvador.
- Big Bad: President Estregan, the mastermind of the bombings and kidnappings.
- Big, Screwed-Up Family: Both Miguel's and Crispin's family.
- Book-Ends: The prologue of the book is Miguel heading to Manila. The epilogue is Crispin Salvador also heading to Manila, giving an insight as to why he wrote the story of Miguel.
- Chekhov's Gun: Miguel's first dream in the story, where he's in an island searching through manuscript boxes.
- Chekhov's Gunman: During the Japanese invasion, Yataro the Gardener saves Crispin's family.
- Double Entendre: An entire section from Manila Noir is basically this, with Antonio Astig toppling his archenemy and saying "If you don't mind, I'd like to be on top," among other things.
- Fetish: Somehow, Miguel has a thing about women's feet and he described them in a very detailed way.
- Fictional Document: See Show Within a Show. There are also several blog sites commenting on the current events in the fictional Philippine setting.
- Footnote Fever: The entire work is littered with footnotes pertaining to Crispin Salvador's works.
- Incoming Ham: Antonio Astig.
- It's All About Me: Grapes, Miguel's grandfather, who is diagnosed with Freudian narcissism. Instead of worrying, he spent his time saying that the great leaders were are narcissists and read books like "The Successful Narcissist".
- Posthumous Character: Crispin Salvador. His life story is told through the history of his works and first-hand accounts from Miguel and Crispin's relatives, friends, and critics. Subverted at the very end, when it's revealed that the entire story is Recursive Canon, and it's Crispin that's writing the whole thing and person who died in the Hudson river is Miguel.
- President Evil: President Estregan's reputation. Turns out to be right.
- Raised by Grandparents: Miguel and his siblings were raised by their grandparents after their parents died.
- Recursive Canon: The ending reveals that Crispin Salvador was the author of the entire thing.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: The manuscript boxes in the Hundred Islands were empty.
- Show Within a Show: Crispin's works are prominently featured in the novel, and there are also news shows dealing with the events in the fictional Manila.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Crispin is treated as one in-universe.
- Take That!: Crispin revels in this in his works. On a meta scale, the entire book seems to be a Take That! against Philippine politics and stereotypes.
- Tomboy: Dulce from the Kaputol trilogy.
- Unreliable Narrator: Miguel is one — there are details which he forgets to leave in, which are left filled by bits and pieces of third-person narration.
- Urban Fantasy: The Kaputol trilogy falls under this.
- Wham Line: The very last line of the book.—Crispin Salvador, en route to Manila, December 1, 2002
- What Could Have Been: Crispin intended The Bridges Ablaze as a huge Take That! to Philippine politicians but ended up writing the story of Miguel, based on a student he had in his Creative Writing class.